French medal awarded to heroic WW2 vet­eran

Runcorn & Widnes Weekly News - - Front Page - BY CHRISTY BYRNE christy.byrne@trin­i­tymir­ror.com @ByrneChristy

AHERO from Hale has been awarded the Le­gion d’Hon­neur, the high­est French award for mil­i­tary merit, for his in­cred­i­ble ex­ploits in the Sec­ond World War.

Cap­tain Eric Gol­drein was pre­sented with the award on Tues­day, May 29 – his 97th birthday – by Philip Daniel, Hon­orary French Con­sul.

The French gov­ern­ment an­nounced in June 2014 that it would be award­ing the Le­gion d’Hon­neur to all Bri­tish vet­er­ans who fought for the lib­er­a­tion of France dur­ing the Sec­ond World War

Since then more than 5,000 medals have been sent out since then.

Cap­tain Gol­drein’s story is one of an as­ton­ish­ing es­cape, where he per­suaded around 40 Ger­man sol­diers to sur­ren­der to him, de­spite hav­ing a bul­let in his shoul­der and only his driver for com­pany.

He landed in Nor­mandy the day be­fore D-Day, at the age of 23, and re­mem­bers his ex­pe­ri­ences vividly as he told the story of how he came to be given the high­est honour in the French mil­i­tary.

He said: “Well, I con­quered France!

“It was a long time ago, but it is some­thing you re­mem­ber.

“I re­mem­ber they stuck a pole on the front of a sub­ma­rine, and I had a ca­noe with a loop of rope around it which went over the pole.

“They went in as far as they could get to the shore, and then I pad­dled and un­hooked my­self and went to shore.

“I was stand­ing with a throat mic, telling the sol­diers as they came in where to go and what to do.

nce all his sol­diers were ashore, Cap­tain Gol­drein asked if there was any­thing else he could do.

He was told to ad­vance the guns for­ward to a nearby town, but be­came con­cerned after con­sult­ing his map.

He said: “On my fight­ing map there were a lot of swastikas where they were point­ing. But they said that we’d taken that area an hour ago, so I got in the Jeep and went.

“But I was right and they were wrong.”

After de­cid­ing it would be eas­ier to progress on foot, Cap­tain Gol­drein and his driver were soon sur­rounded by Ger­man sol­diers with just one gun be­tween them. He was shot in the right shoul­der, and taken to the Ger­man Colonel where he be­gan to en­gi­neer his es­cape.

He said: “I had done Ger­man at school, but I spoke to them in French so they didn’t know that I was un­der­stand­ing what they were say­ing.”

News was con­tin­u­ously fil­ter­ing through of fur­ther Ger­man ca­su­al­ties, and Cap­tain Gol­drein was able to un­der­stand that his cap­tors were pan­ick­ing.

“They kept say­ing to the colonel, ‘what the hell are we go­ing to do sir?’, and he was re­ply­ing ‘well I’m bug­gered if I know.’

“So I said to them in Ger­man, ‘why don’t you sur­ren­der?’

“They didn’t kick it into touch, but they were say­ing ‘well how can we sur- ren­der?’

“And I said ‘well you can sur­ren­der to me’.

“There I was with my arm in a sling made out of my tie, and they laughed.

“But even­tu­ally they dis­cussed it and said they would.”

Cap­tain Gol­drein says that he had to stage man­age the sur­ren­der – ‘so if a pa­trol came back or some­thing they wouldn’t think that I’d done some­thing ter­ri­ble’.

For­tu­nately the first pa­trol they came across on their march back was the Royal Worces­ter­shire Reg­i­ment, who took Cap­tain Gol­drein and his cap­tives back to their colonel.

He said: “I went up to him, saluted left handed, and then I flaked out.

“I woke up in the hospi­tal, I re­mem­ber this very well, be­cause I heard fe­male voices.

“I hadn’t heard any fe­male voices in months, I thought I was dead and this must be heaven.

“They took the bul­let out and un­der­neath I had a lit­tle bit say­ing ‘ taken out of the right shoul­der of Cap­tain Gol­drein, Royal Ar­tillery,’ and the date.

“You will have guessed that I wasn’t ac­tu­ally killed so that’s been a great plea­sure, not to be dead.”

Cap­tain Gol­drein’s par­ents back in Liver­pool would re­ceive a tele­gram from the war of­fice that their son was badly wounded.

Mean­while at the same time he write a letter say­ing he had ‘ a bit of a scratch’.

He said the prospect of not re­turn­ing from war was one that he and his men had ac­cepted.

He said: “We weren’t mis­er­able, but we knew what we were go­ing to face.

“No­body in my lot ever said ‘after the war we’re go­ing to do this, that or the other, none of us re­ally ex­pected to come back.

“I’d been to the First World War graves in Flan­ders, and while they said this war was go­ing to be dif­fer­ent we thought that’s what they would say.

“We’d stud­ied the air photos, we knew what we were go­ing to meet, and it seemed im­pos­si­ble.

“We never ex­pected to sur­vive, but I’m here, and I’m old, and I never ex­pected to be old.

“I’m the old­est chap I know!” ●

Eric Gol­drein, 97, with his Le­gion d’Hon­neur medal

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